...manages to maintain the Blue Nile's impeccably tasteful standards while soaring...
Michael Fitzsimmons 2004-09-08
The first album for eight years, and only the fourth in 21 years, High manages to maintain the Blue Nile's impeccably tasteful standards while soaring blissfully over the rattle and hum of most contemporary music. Paul Buchanan still sings his songs of faded love affairs, broken dreams and squandered ambitions with almost painful emotional candor, while the musical backings are as lush and flowing as ever.
Opening track "The Days of Our Lives" returns to the sparse sound of 1984's debut, A Walk Across the Rooftops, although the flush of youthful romantic exuberance has now been replaced by a world weary housewife who "sits around in her dressing gown". Buchanan's lyrics deal in the kind of details which can wrench the most telling of emotional responses from the seemingly mundane. On "Broken Loves" he sings, "Nothing I can say or do/will make you turn off the tv/and look up", perfectly evoking the heartbreaking frustration of knowing things are going wrong but not quite knowing why, and stalking similar territory to 1989's classic "Lets Go Out Tonight".
Elsewhere, "I Would Never" is as perfect a love song as you will ever hear, all the more striking for it's unashamed romanticism -as close as Buchanan ever gets to cliché. While most pop songs seem content to bask in the glow of eternal youth, The Blue Nile are resolutely adult in their concerns - 1996's Peace At Last dealt with the pressures and the joys of family and commitment, while High seems to deal with a re-affirmation of those same things, but with an occasionally ambiguous and fearful tone.
There are many recognizable Blue Nile motifs throughout - the imagery of rain, railway stations, traffic and rooftops will certainly be familiar - and the tempo barely rises above a stately shuffle, which for some might seem a missed opportunity for stylistic innovation. However, for those of us who've cherished the band's previous albums, High is like meeting a new friend, albeit one possessing a reassuring familiarity.
See you in ten years then, lads?